One of Donald J. Trump's recent attack lines against Hillary Clinton focuses on her health: If she has nothing to hide, he asks in a tweet, why doesn't she release her medical records to the public?
For the moment, put aside Mr. Trump's own revelations about his medical history, which consist of a hyperbolic, undated letter with little detail from his gastroenterologist. And put aside Mrs. Clinton's own recent disclosures, which include a somewhat more detailed accounting of her health and medication history from the internist who has overseen her care in recent years. Put aside, finally, the question of whether complete medical records would allay the conspiracy theories of some of Mrs. Clinton's critics, who say a recent cough is a sign of disqualifying illness or believe she experienced a seizure during a recent news conference.
Instead, assume that Mrs. Clinton wished to take Mr. Trump's request seriously, and release full and detailed medical records. It would not be easy, even for a V.I.P. with an army of staffers. Mrs. Clinton is 68 years old, has lived in multiple states and been treated by many doctors and hospitals over the years. The notion of a single file, containing "medical records," is a fiction. Her medical records are in bits and pieces, in doctors' filing cabinets, hospital records departments, and in hard-to-access computers. Just like yours, probably.
The federal government has invested billions in helping to digitize medical records, but the process is still in its infancy, with data that is often nonstandard and hard to transfer between systems. And even as a growing number of medical professionals have made the transition to digital records, most of our medical histories exist only in the old world of paper, assuming they still exist at all. (Mrs. Clinton's pediatrician is unlikely to still be alive, and records of Mrs. Clinton's possible polio vaccination or childhood ear infections may be lost to history.)